Friday 20 June 2008

Maine Coon Cat Health

The health of cat breeds and in this instance Maine Coon Cat Health is important to people. In fact it is often one of the most important aspects of a cat breed. It must be and it should be. The welfare of cats should be our primary concern.

Maine Coon cat
This Maine Coon cat ("Hugo") is not ill as far as I am aware. He is here because it is a nice picture (copyright stevegarfield) and is reproduced under a creative commons license.

The Maine Coon is a fine looking cat with a long American history. This cat is large and looks robust. This is not surprising, after all, as their origins are in the barns of Maine, USA, as a semi-feral mouser cat. You've got to be pretty tough to live like that.

One difficulty in discussing cat health problems is to make sure that the problem is breed specific. Some conditions are found in all domestic cats. But if that is the case sometimes a particular cat breed has a predisposition to a disease (i.e. it is found more often in a certain cat breed because the disease is genetically inherited).

These are the diseases that are known to be found more commonly in the Maine Coon cat than in other breeds - Maine Coon Cat Health problems. Note: Maine Coon breeders are aware of the need to manage and eliminate these diseases through screening and wise breeding so this post should not frighten anyone off from adopting a Maine Coon cat.

Maine Coon Cat Health - Hip Dysplasia

It is well known in the cat fancy that this disorder is more common in the larger cats and the Maine Coon is the largest domestic cat as registered by the CFA. This disease impairs mobility. As I understand it, it is more common in larger cats because the condition is more apparent in larger cats as the extra weight exposes the weakness in the hip joint.

The word "dysplasia" means an abnormal development or growth of organs, cells or tissue in the body.

In this instance the growth occurs in the hip with bone tissue being replaced by fibrous tissue. This is because the hip joint is ill fitting causing wear. Cartilage is produced to repair the joint. The disorder is both inherited and caused by environmental factors. If severe it causes painful arthritis and is crippling. (Wikipedia says it also affects the Siamese cat - link to Siamese cat health problems).

Patellar luxation is sometimes found in Maine Coons and can "occur concurrently to hip dysplasia"). The knee cap slides to the inside of the leg. Can cause lameness and reluctance to jump (source: Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects of Purebred Cats).

Maine Coon Cat Health - HCM

This stands for Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It is an inherited disease. This means that the cat in question (not all cats in a breed) is programmed genetically to acquire the disease. HCM is late onset (adult onset - becoming noticed when the cat is an adult) meaning that it is not congenital (symptoms present at birth). HCM is the most common heart disease reported in domestic cats. It is known to be present in the Maine Coon cat breed. About one third test positive apparently. This seems a high percentage.

I have a friend Valley Girl who cares for a wonderful polydactyl Maine Coon. Maine Coons have a predisposition to be polydactyl as well but this is not a health problem. She has contacts in the Maine Coon world! And she reports what seems like a high percentage of Maine Coons dying young of HCM and one dying of hip dysplasia complications. I don't wish to harp on about genetic illnesses but I have always kept moggies and it has never entered my head that my cats might die, at say aged four, of a heart disease. I find the high percentage worrying. I don't know how other people feel but a poll on my site indicates that people are concerned about a cat's underlying health. On that basis inherited diseases damage the reputation of a cat breed and the MC is a very popular cat.

The symptoms are a thickening of the left
thickening of the left ventricular free wall & interventricular septum. As it affects the Bengal cat as well I have made several posts about this disease in relation to the Bengal cat:
A cat will be suspected to have HCM when a heart murmur is present. Cardiac ultrasound is used to confirm the presence of this disease. As stated, the development of HCM starts in adulthood, which could mean early adulthood (8-12 months) or much later at say 8 -12 years. Screening should take place every year of adulthood therefore. Breeders regularly screen and remove cats from the breeding program that test positive.

But not all breeders do screen as far as I am aware, which is a shame as it means they perpetuate the disease in their breeding lines (this may apply more to Bengal cat breeders who are just coming to terms with the fact that their cats may contract HCM). It also means they may pass on the disease to other breeders if they loan or sell their stud to another breeder.

In Maine Coons substantial research has been carried out (I believe) and as a result the gene involved is known to be autosomal (not sex related - a gene located on a chromosome that is not a sex chromosome) dominant with variable penetrance. On the following page is an abstract of some research carried out on the Prevalence of HCM in Swedish Maine Coon cats that were asymptomatic. It is reproduced under a creative commons license fully complied with to the best of my knowledge.

Maine Coon Cat Health - PKD

Kidney Disease
Maine Coon Cat Health - photo reproduced under Wikimedia commons license photo credit: CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr. This picture is of human kidneys as far as I am aware.

This stands for Polycystic Kidney Disease. It is a Maine Coon Cat Health problem. It is present in Persian cats as well amongst other breeds. It also occurs in humans. This is also a genetically inherited disease.

Cysts form in both kidneys (see photo above). Kidney function is impaired and it deteriorates with renal disease at aged 3-10 years. The gene responsible is autosomal dominant. The symptoms are weight loss, depression, occasional vomiting and increased thirst and urination. PKD cats need not be euthanized unless deemed necessary, but it is a fatal disease.

Maine Coon Cat Health - Gingivitis

This disease affects any cat but is mentioned in relation to the Maine Coon so is probably more commonly present in this cat breed (i.e. a genetic predisposition). Symptoms are swollen gums that bleed. This causes discomfort and loss of appetite.

Maine Coon Cat Health - Spinal muscular atrophy

The symptom of this disease is the death of neurons in the spinal cord. These neurons control muscle function. Accordingly, the muscles fail to work properly and muscle weakness ensues resulting in a non normal gait and a less athletic cat (cats are usually very athletic). The cat's life is impaired but it is not fatal (it seems).

It is transmitted by an autosomal recessive gene. It has been transmitted widely. Breeders can now test for this disease.

The Maine Coon has more than the usual genetic predispositions to certain diseases from my research or at least this is the impression that I have. This may be due to careless breeding early on in the breeding program (i.e. many decades ago). It would seem that modern breeders are more in tune with the need to control and manage these diseases - I hope so.

One last point. A concerned Italian breeder is worried that enough is not being done in Europe to eradicate HCM from the breed. He emailed me. This is his email: Maine Coon Cat Health in Europe.

Maine Coon Cat Health - Sources:
  • Tufts Oct 2003
  • Wikipedia
  • Picture of
  • Robinson's Genetics
Maine Coon Cat Health to Maine Coon cats


  1. When I adopted "BinkyJack' -the "Nuclear Kitten"- the cats in the front were healthy- mainly adoreable kittens- The ay I decided to adopt him- I noticed his one eye had a discharge. They provided for a free exam at a local vet. He said the kitten had conjunctivitis and prescribed a 2 X daily med I had to apply into his eyes for 32 wks. then- this cleared up and he developed an upper Respirtory Infection. He was on a round of antibiotics. Although he appeared better- he is the only cat I have ever owned that has daily allergic sneezing bouts- The sneezing is so intense he often has a good deal of mucous that is expelled. Does this sound like an "allergic cat"? Or on a more serious note could this be a sign of some underlying symtomology- that relates back to the place I adopted him- where there was a "viral" epidemic at the time I adopted him.

  2. Judy Dee -

    You might consider taking BinkyJack to the vet for an allergy test if your vet offers them. Growing up, I had a mixed breed farm cat who did the same thing! He sneezed everywhere sometimes leaving behind stings of mucous or puddles of snot. After numerous tests, it was found out that he was allergic to the dander of another cat in our house!

  3. Hi, I just wanna tell somebody... (sorry heh...)
    I adopted 2 sweethearts Maine coon mixes about 7 months ago, love him dearly. Took them to the vet just to be sure they're all fine. Well turns out my John(7 months old at this time) has HCM and a very low heart rate and according to the vet his prognosis ain't good. :(
    But he's been on medication since and it's helped, got the thumbs up last time we went to the vet.
    John used to be a very tired cat but now! Well now he's another cat entirely. He plays with his sister (her name's Dog), runs around, doesn't lie down as much as he did instead he sits up and watches what the humans do. I'm just so happy that he is feeling better and I love him so much :)

  4. Judy Dee, I hope you see this. You should google feline herpes. My cat has had multiple upper respritory infections, and sneezes like crazy, but once I started supplementing with L-lysine, it all cleared up.... and cleared up faster than with antibiotics. I just cut a regular L-lysine tablet in half and mix it into my kitty's food. I know herpes and URI sound odd together, but look it up.

  5. My Maine Coon mix has skin allergy problems-I have changed his food to a hypoallergenic type, changed his litter to unscented, have filtered water for him to drink, and keep him for the most part inside(the only exception is when he slips out the door when I am carrying something and I quickly catch him and bring him back inside). His skin allergy seems to be a seasonal thing, unfortunately the only thing the vet can do is give him steroid shots when it really erupts. It presents as scabs all over his body (miliary dermatitis) and he has been treated for fleas-doesn't have any, mange-doesn't have mange-the vets really don't know what is causing it, but blood tests and allergy tests are far too expensive for me. I don't like giving him prednisone-fear it will shorten his life-but no one else has come up with any solutions. Just thought I should add this to your blog in case anyone else has faced this problem.

    1. So sorry that I did not respond. This sounds horrendous and it must be worrying. I think that allergies are very difficult to combat. I don't think veterinarians have a really good handle on it and they give steroids as a last resort which I don't like either. I'm not sure that I can say anything which is useful but I wish you the very best of luck.

  6. I have a maine coon mix. He is three years old. This past summer he began pulling out his hair on his hind legs, under his tail, on his belly and on his sides. He is currently on an antihistamine. It worked for a little while but just as his coat started to grow back he has begun over grooming again. He has scabs on his neck and between his shoulders. He is on a nutritious food without grains, corn or preservatives. Not sure what else to do for him.

    1. These are very difficult things to diagnose in my opinion. It could be an allergy and there are numerous allergens out there which can affect cats. He may be scratching himself causing the scabs and infections possibly. He may be over grooming which is often caused by stress for some reason or other and that is not a criticism of you. He may be stressed by any number of things such as another cat which he sees or a cat inside the home who is bullying him or something like that. My gut feeling, and I am not a veterinarian, is that this is an allergy of some sort and I think you would have to see a veterinarian about that. Sorry for not responding.

  7. We adopted a Maine coon from a cat sanctuary so are unsure how old he is, we have him 3 yrs, he was 2 - 3 I reckon when we got him. Lately he keeps licking his rear and diarrhoea seems to be running out of him quite frequently, when moving around and jumping,not when he is sleeping. His diet has not changed, dry food and water, no tinned food or milk. Any suggestions to what could be the problem?

    1. Hello Colette. This could be diarrhoea, a bad case of it, or it could be due to some nerve damage. Is he an outside cat? Is it possible that he might have been injured damaging the nerves to the rectum?

      As for diarrhoea, do you give him milk? If you do you can stop that and give him lactose-free milk or special milk for cats because cats are generally lactose intolerant and it causes diarrhoea.

      There are many reasons for diarrhoea one of which of course is ingesting things like decayed food, rich food, indigestible items et cetera. Another possibility is intestinal parasites. A further possibility is toxic substances such as gasoline, kerosene, cleaning fluid and refrigerants, insecticides bleaches, mushrooms, wild and ornamental plants, building materials and there's many more items in fact.

      You can buy a product for cats which stops diarrhoea. You can probably buy it online on You might try that and check whether he might have eaten or ingested something as listed above. Good luck.


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